Ranking the 5 best MLS newcomers
Every season, there is a new crop of players who've come to Major League Soccer for the first time. But the average age of these foreign recruitments is shrinking, and the reasons are not solely tied to money.
Here are five newcomers who will make an impact in 2017:
5. Sebastian Blanco (Portland Timbers)
The rest of the Western Conference should take notice of the Portland Timbers. With the acquisition of attacking midfielder Sebastian Blanco from San Lorenzo, they are well-equipped to make the playoffs after last season's narrow miss. Blanco, 28, already has a good relationship with Timbers playmaker Diego Valeri, who shared a locker room with the team's newest Designated Player between 2006 and 2011 at Argentinian side Lanus.
Head coach Caleb Porter is expected to deploy Blanco on the right wing, where 2016 bust Lucas Melano put in several disappointing performances. Melano was shipped out on loan, and Blanco, worth a reported $4-million transfer fee, has every chance to make the position his own.
4. Maxi Moralez (New York City FC)
Signed from Liga MX side Club Leon, the 30-year-old Maxi Moralez completes New York City FC's trio of DPs. He's not the same kind of player as Frank Lampard, who retired from football after the 2016 campaign, but at 5-foot-3, Moralez is a sneaky playmaker who can give David Villa the service to become an even more lethal force in the Eastern Conference. The two already connected in preseason, Moralez supplying a cross to the former Barcelona striker, giving supporters a glimpse of what they can expect at Yankee Stadium.
Moralez is also well-traveled, having played in Russia, Italy, Argentina, and Mexico, and that could mean less time adapting to MLS.
3. Abu Danladi (Minnesota United)
After an impressive college career with UCLA, Abu Danladi went to expansion franchise Minnesota United as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. The 21-year-old is a capable striker who can also play on the flanks.
Before the draft took place, there were questions about Danladi's struggles with injuries, but Minnesota head coach Adrian Heath saw enough potential to push for the player.
"If everything falls in place, we'll probably have the most exciting young player in MLS on our hands," said Heath, who also oversaw the development of former first overall selection Cyle Larin into a premier MLS poacher at Orlando City.
Danladi has the opportunity to be the star at Minnesota - which has slowly built a side of capable, if not spectacular, players for its debut campaign - and with Heath's help, the Ghanaian could challenge Latin's 17-goal rookie scoring record.
2. Romain Alessandrini (LA Galaxy)
No longer afforded minutes at childhood club Marseille, Romain Alessandrini joined the LA Galaxy in search of a new opportunity. He is a new breed of Designated Player, in the prime of his career at 27 years old. The likes of Hull City and Genoa apparently offered Alessandrini a similar escape from Marseille, but it was the lure of a fresh challenge in California that enticed the Frenchman.
There is plenty to like about this move, which gives the Galaxy a great option on the wing and another source of goals in the post-Robbie Keane era. Alessandrini's combinations with Giovani Dos Santos could prove one of the league's scariest.
1. Miguel Almiron (Atlanta United)
Atlanta United made clear its ambitions for its debut season in December, when Tata Martino's side fronted a reported $8.5 million to sign highly rated 23-year-old Miguel Almiron from Lanus. Martino's connections in Argentina surely helped the deal go through, but it's rare to see an expansion team establish such a promising collection of attacking players before kicking a ball.
Coveted by several European clubs, a queue reportedly including Arsenal, Almiron can dictate the match from a left-sided midfield position. And if former Premier League striker Kenwyne Jones is at all effective, Almiron will likely be the one responsible.
(Photos courtesy: USA TODAY Sports)